Looking back and moving forward: Sandra Adams reflects on the start of Meals-on-Wheels

Sandra Adams

Looking back and moving forward: Sandra Adams reflects on the start of Meals-on-Wheels
June 30
07:54 2022

By Joel McIver

This year, Senior Services’ Meals-on-Wheels program is celebrating 60 years of providing meals in our community!  In 1962 Sandra Adas was one of the earliest volunteers for the then-fledgling Meals-on-Wheels program.

Sandra is a former Senior Services board member and chair, current Senior Services Foundation board member, and long-time agency supporter. But in 1962, she never would have guessed how much the program would grow and impact the Forsyth County community. 

“The thing that has excited me most about Meals-on-Wheels turning 60 is the realization that I was there almost at the beginning, though I didn’t know it,” said Adams.

Adams says she loves those “wait-a-minute moments” and had a big one several years ago when she first became a member of the Senior Services Board of Directors. It happened during her board orientation. As she looked at pictures on the wall, the new board members were being told about how old Senior Services was and how its oldest program – Meals-on-Wheels – was started in 1962 by a group of women at Wake Forest Baptist church. “I was like, wait a minute now. I was a freshman at Wake Forest in 1962!” 

Adams joined a student group to get involved in community action during her first semester. “We’d go out to the prison on the Cherry Street extension or visit at the County Home, as it was known at the time. I loved doing all those things,” Adams said. One day as she and other students were getting ready to go on a visit to the prison, the person who was going to take them – because “girls couldn’t drive at Wake Forest then,” says Adams – informed the students that they had received an emergency call for assistance. Some women down in the kitchen at the Wake Forest Church were making meals that needed to be delivered and they were overwhelmed. 

“They asked if any of us were willing to go to the church instead of the prison to help out. Now, I think I may have been following a boy who said he would go, if I remember correctly – I hope I’m not.”

Either way, she went to the kitchen to lend a hand and there she found several women scurrying around the church kitchen. Adams said, “I don’t remember a whole lot, but I remember they had us peeling potatoes – a lot of potatoes! We were at the sink peeling, and they were running around loading food into a station wagon.”

Fast forward about five decades, back to the orientation, “They’re telling us about how Meals-on-Wheels started, and I look at the picture and see a picture of this women named Helen Pritchard and I think to myself, that is the woman who got us in the kitchen peeling the potatoes, who had us loading the meals [into the station wagon]. I saw that picture and thought, unbelievable.” Adams thinks she only delivered meals once, but she helped prepare many meals and peeled countless potatoes!

There was another “wait-a-minute moment”: Decades after her freshman year in 1962, while Adams was the head of Summit School, she happened to notice the name Helen Pritchard on a list of grandparents. “I thought, ‘She’s a Summit grandmother! I have her grandchildren here at Summit? Wait a minute!’ I have one regret – that I never went to her and said, ‘I know you don’t remember me, but I was one of the kids in the kitchen peeling potatoes’ and thanked her for what she’s done for this community.”

Reflecting on that and the start of the Meals-on-Wheels program, Adams continued. “The world is small and there are just so many chance meetings in life. I just think about her. I wasn’t part of the planning for what those women were doing, but I can just still see them in that kitchen, excited about what they were doing, wondering if they could ever get this in the trunk of the car or get the food there – it was kind of tense there for a little while. Never, never, I don’t think, would any of those women have ever dreamed what would happen what with that small beginning of that great idea! 

“I am thrilled that this many years later, what she started in that kitchen and what I was one one thousandth of a part of continues at a level that she could never have dreamed. That’s why I’m excited.”

Adams is grateful for people who look out for others the way Helen Pritchard and the women in the Wake Forest Church did. “I think we’re all products of people looking out for us. Not just saying, ‘thoughts and prayers’ – which are important, but she was so far beyond that! People like her who put action into their thoughts and prayers.” Adams says that she is humbled by what Senior Services does for this community. “I don’t think we even know how many people’s lives are better off because of people like Helen and the thousands of others that have followed her and keep her work alive.”

When looking forward to the new things on the horizon for Senior Services, including a new Intergenerational Center for Arts and Wellness that broke ground in April, Adams feels almost like the impossible dream is happening. “When I think about what we are getting ready to do here, the vision that people have had about bringing children and older people together, bringing health services, bringing music, bringing happiness, I think it’s the most exciting time ever in Senior Services history.”

Looking back, she doesn’t think those women who started it were doing it in hopes of starting something exciting and big or thinking of creating a national model. “They couldn’t have seen that. They were doing it for the here and now … there were hungry people in this town. They knew it and they couldn’t stand the thought of people being hungry right here in our own community. They weren’t thinking years down the road. They were thinking we want to get food to the people who need it right now.” 

As their Meals-on-Wheels program has grown into what is now Senior Services, Adams is thrilled with the direction the nonprofit is moving. “We’ve moved forward as an organization, but those seeds led to this. We’ve had a chance to dream and to go way down the road and to think about possibilities. There’s no telling what’s about to happen as a result of what we’re doing here … replication in other places in the nation .. making Winston-Salem a model for what we can do for the elderly and treating people with dignity. I think it’s probably better that those women didn’t foresee that because they may have said, impossible! But what they saw was right in front of them and they knew it was possible for them to do something. I think the lesson we get is you have to start with what is possible at that moment then let it happen!”

Sandra, an educator, philanthropist, and volunteer, got her desire to serve from her parents. Her father was a doctor who became a minister and her mother earned a master’s degree in religious education. They led a joyful life of service, they loved what they did, and taught Sandra and her brother that real joy came from serving others. 


Joel McIver is vice president for community engagement for Senior Services.


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